Monday, 27 March 2023

March's Last Prospective

Coming up on the blog: a predictions post. Some books I’d like to see adapted for the screen. An encounter with a famous novelist. A recipe review (provided I can figure out how to make a reel). A trip to a Scottish city, featuring whisky and architecture. A review of this bodybuilding project. (I don’t look much different.) 

And then it’s April. April! I’ll attempt to cultivate a social life again then.

Saturday, 25 March 2023

Avoidance of pain only causes more pain

Grief is scary. Rare is the person who shouts, ‘Bring on the grief!’ but the more you experience grief and then recognise how it opens you up to feeling alive, the more you will welcome grief. It is a necessary part of the healing path and a sign that sustained healing in the body, mind and spirit is actually happening. Until you allow the grief to come and flow, the grip of resentment will continue to provide a false illusion of control when it actually causes further pain and suffering. 

-Suzanne Jones, There is Nothing to Fix 

There’s an episode of South Park in which Stan’s girlfriend Wendy turns out to be somewhat tougher than we imagine, and squares up to the class bully and bastard bigmouth Eric Cartman. She tells him she’ll give him a kicking as soon as school is over. Cartman, desperate for a way out, comes up with this not-so-ingenious evasion.

More on this later. 

During the pandemic I had little to do but work, read and work out. I read a lot of books. A few of these were sent to me for review by publishers who I believe had found my details on a publication database. I’d listed myself as covering psychology. 

Back in October ‘20 Ascot Media presumably found me there and sent me a copy of There is Nothing to Fix, a self help book by Suzanne Jones. A really interesting book about trauma, and recovery through therapy and support groups, There is Nothing to Fix stayed with me long after I read it. In particular, the above quote I couldn’t shift from my mind. Not the exact wording, but the principle – the avoidance of pain. 

I have spent 40 years afraid of being hurt. I’m responsible for my own actions, and always have been, but there has been one thing that I’ve been hung up on for a long time. 5 of those years – secondary school – I dealt with a lot of verbal abuse from girls. They would make a lot of personal negative comments about my appearance. They’d pretend to be interested, and I’d fall for it every time, then brutally dump me. They’d get their boyfriends to threaten me. One of the girls even beat the shit out of me when I was on rollerblades. She was a head taller than me (even when I had blades on), and a lot stronger. 

A lot of this happened not because of how I looked, but how I behaved. I have short term memory difficulties from an acquired brain injury, a result of a complication at birth. In secondary school I was insecure, frustrated, childish and a loner. Learning my way around a massive building and trying to remember rooms, names of teachers, names of pupils and – let’s not forget – what I was actually being taught in the lessons, was too much to handle. 

I pretty much went mad. I don’t want to give too much of an example, but I was not popular. Whenever I was interested in a girl, the response was rarely ‘no thank you,’ it was a tirade of insults to keep me as far away from them as possible. 

Let's jump forward to my mid-20s, to 2007-2008, when I was reading a lot of information from dating guru David DeAngelo. I found him through a Google search. I checked his site (no longer valid), started reading, and started taking on board his teachings. 

Within 6 months, I’d lost my virginity at the age of 25. 

Slight overshare, perhaps, but we’re talking about trauma. There’s no other way of making the point. In those 6 months of reading, though, I took on a lot of character-building information. I can still remember a ton of it. I remember sitting at my computer literally crying as I realised what I’d been doing wrong my whole life. Every email that was sent out informed me more and more. 

I somehow got out of the habit of reading the emails. Maybe they stopped being sent. I dunno. 

There was one particular point that he made, though, that I can’t get out of my head, yet, paradoxically, I am still yet to take on as a 40-year-old. (Predictably, I can’t find it anywhere online now, so you’ll have to accept my paraphrasing.) 

DeAngelo explained that, you could look at a woman, like her, go over and talk to her and get a resounding no. She might be polite, or she might not be. But if she rejects you, you know. It’s over. You move on. The damage is done. If you don’t approach her, for whatever reason (for me it was fear that I wouldn’t be good enough), you’ll spend the rest of the night- possibly even the week- thinking, what if I’d just tried? What if things had worked out? 

That pain of regret will be so, so much worse than any rejection she could give you. 

DeAngelo is right. I know this and have acted on it with success. Sometimes they’re interested, sometimes they’re not. Yet I still find I can freeze with fear, and not make that initial approach. Then I go home wishing that I’d made the move. 

In contrast, I’m reminded of an incident after a Miss Swimsuit UK event a few years ago. Believe what you want, but I’d been there to get selfies with zed-list reality TV stars, not just to ogle women in bikinis. 

Not just. 

After the event we’d headed to an after-party in a venue nearby. On entry, I realised from the couplings and dress sense of the clientele that this was a gay bar. No biggie. Been to many. But I do get a lot of unwanted attention from gay guys, and always have, and I was starting to get looks. Some guy struck up conversation with me. I brushed him off. 

For whatever reason, the group seemed to split apart -maybe someone went to the bar, someone else went to the restroom, etc etc. I was stood on my own. I needed to raise a flag. 

Fuck it, I thought. I’m in a distant city, nobody knows me, and if I meet anyone nothing’s going to happen anyway. I’m giving my mate a lift back to Manchester, so I can’t do anything with anyone tonight or after. It means nothing. 

And I know how I’ll feel if I don’t try. 

Across the room, someone else was evidently feeling out of place. A tall, traditionally beautiful, perhaps Arabic looking woman, maybe in her mid 20s. 

Let’s do this. 

“Hi,” I said. “I’m Matt.” 

“Matt, I’m not the kind of girl you should be approaching,” she claimed. “I don’t even come to this kind of place.” 

“Me neither,” I interjected. “I’m from Oldham.” 

Once she started ranting about her family having land in Saudi Arabia, I walked off. 

Big exhale. Well, I thought. Not had rejection like that since school. But I did it. She didn’t waste my time, she made her thoughts clear, and they were exactly what I expected. Any other approach I do is unlikely to be that bad. 

I don’t remember making any other approaches that night, but generally speaking, it was a decent night. 

Contrast that with countless other nights during which I’d seen someone I’d liked the look of, and I’d not approached because I expected to get exactly that response. Afterwards, I’d spent more time wishing I’d just tried, feeling more turmoil than I would have felt if she’d have blown me out like Arabic Girl did. 

But then, also, compare that with other nights when I just thought, fuck this, and made a move, and got somewhere. Some of these women were astonishing. They could have had anyone, but were happy – at that moment, at least – with me. With all my self-doubt shoved to one side, I achieved what I wanted. Literally the only thing genuinely stopping me – not my disability (when I explained memory difficulties, most girls were fine with it) – not my looks (it seems not everyone agrees with certain girls from 3 decades ago) and not my mental health, but my own belief systems that have been the issue behind all of this. 

Cartman humiliated himself far worse than any beating ever could (plus he did get beat up). David DeAngelo and Suzanne Jones are both absolutely right: The pain of hesitancy or evasion, and more pertinently, regret over inaction, is far more excruciating than the pain of rejection outright insult. 

To polish off this thesis: a quote from Robert Greene’s The 48 Laws of Power. In particular, Law 28: Enter Action with Boldness.  

Understand: If boldness does not come naturally to you, neither does timidity. It is an acquired habit, picked up out of a desire to avoid conflict. If timidity has taken hold of you, then root it out. Your fears of the consequences of a bold action are way out of proportion to reality, and in fact the consequences of timidity are worse.

Monday, 20 March 2023

Harlan Coben in Manchester

I’ve got a ticket to meet Harlan Coben, author of Netflix hit The Stranger. He’s at Central Library, Wednesday night, signing new novel Find You. 

If you haven’t booked, you’re too late. Tickets (via Waterstones) are sold out. Expect a write-up on the blog. 

Last full week of this gym project. Getting somewhere. The constant cooking and eating is tiresome, as are the early morning starts, but the odd PB is starting to roll in. 

I have at least 4 #psychologysaturday posts lined up.

Saturday, 18 March 2023

The God Delusion

Before I get into this book review, a little background on myself. 

I went to Church of England primary and secondary schools. I was raised Christian. Before this, there was a complication at birth. I sustained a head injury and memory difficulties were first picked up on by my infant teacher when I was 4 years old. I was first psychologically assessed and diagnosed at 9. I didn’t receive any particular support and schoolwork swallowed up much of my life. I don’t recall anyone in primary school having seen the assessment. 

At secondary school – Blue Coat in Oldham – I had similar problems. Assemblies were usually punctuated with Christian ideology, about being good to others and having empathy, yet teachers – I’d say maybe half of them – routinely lacked this. I’m sure most schools (religious or not) contained within them the same problems. 

Due to memory difficulties I had a lot of contact with the Special Educational Needs coordinator, whom we’ll call Mrs G. I’ve written about her before. This teacher in particular lacked empathy, or even basic decency. Among her humiliations, she once threatened to make me drop my trousers in front of the form because I forgot to bring in some money for a sponsored event. (She did not follow through with this, although 11 year-old me believed she was crazy enough to do so.) 

When I got to GCSEs at 14, the workload was just too much. 10 GCSEs were impractical. I had the intelligence to understand certain concepts, but not the energy to flit between different subjects and projects. Instead of support and nurturing… more abuse from Mrs G. 

I visited the deputy head and the head of the school, with my parents, in an attempt to formally drop one subject. Their response: a resounding ‘no.’ They left my mum in tears. 

I received another psych assessment at this time, again diagnosing me with memory difficulties, and this was sent to Mrs G, who (predictably) ignored it. 

So excuse me if a Christian environment doesn’t particularly appeal. 

It wasn’t until I was in my late 20s that I received an accurate psych assessment with a diagnosis for short term memory difficulties. I’ve been learning about my condition and the field of psychology ever since. I’m now 40. The more I’ve learned, the more my life has made sense and the more I’ve been able to do things for myself (operate in a job, cook meals, DIY, plan journeys, etc.). 

Moreover, the more religion of any kind seems nothing other than an irrelevance and an interruption. 

I recently found Richard Dawkins’ 2006 book The God Delusion on offer in Fopp, 2 for £7. (I coupled it with Irvine Welsh’s Marabou Stork Nightmares, if you were at all curious.) It’s a weighty, generous analysis of atheism and an excoriation of religion. As much as it’s a rigorously in-depth investigation – 400-odd pages – it has only one solitary point to make: that, as the title suggests, there is no god, and it labours said point for over 400 pages. 

Despite doing so, Dawkins singles out and denounces Christianity, possibly due to this being the main religion he was exposed to. The other 5 of The Big 6 (Judaism, Islam, Hinduism, Buddhism and Sikhism) are largely neglected. No mention of Jewish circumcision of children? No mention of Mohammed’s 9-year-old wife? Of his sword verses, instructing people to kill non-believers? Perhaps a mere year after the London Islamic terror attacks of 7/7 and 21/7 in 2005, Dawkins wasn’t feeling brave enough to tackle this. Shouldn’t The Big 6 have been equally dissected and dismissed? I’m sure they all have their controversies buried (or in plain view) in their religious texts. 

Shouldn’t Dawkins have thrown the net a little further than his own Oxfordshire upbringing? (That said, the guy was born in Nairobi Kenya, but then, that’s probably a more Christian country than the UK.)

Another omission in The God Delusion is any comparison to ancient religions, like the sun-worshippers of Early Egypt or the ritualistic Aztec sacrifices to the Sun-God. A long time ago they may have been, but are these gods any more a fallacy than today’s? And can’t these sacrifices be compared to terrorist atrocities- particularly suicide bombings- happening the world over in the 21st century? 

I wanted more from the book. There’s a huge reference section but no glossary. There’s little mention of how religion unnecessarily pervades other areas of life – there’s perhaps a mention of politics, but none on things like education. Should religious schools still be allowed to operate in the UK / USA in the 2020s? Should support groups like Alcoholics Anonymous and other vice-specific groups be encouraging us to hold hands and chant to God, asking us to ‘remove defects of character’? (Bombshell revelation: an addiction is not a defect of character. It’s a neurological compulsion. Such groups do nothing to help addicts.) 

I’ve shared frequently about Andy’s Man Club, the depression support group that I attend weekly. We have a ‘no religion’ rule. It’s just not discussed, and for good reason. We’re not a debate group. In The God Delusion, I didn’t feel that enough was made of the societal handbrake that’s applied when religion creeps its way into facets of our lives where it’s not relevant. 

The world of 2023 is still fighting off COVID-19, a disease thought to have killed 6.72 million people to date. In early 2021, Pfizer released a vaccine that was around 90% effective in preventing the transmission of COVID. Immediately, infection rates plummeted. The vaccine was working. 

The more the vaccine was rolled out, however, the more we realised that there were a cohort of unintelligent, arrogant, clueless weirdos intent on delivering their own spurious narrative: the anti-vaxxers. These people outright refused – and still refuse - to accept the scientific facts on clear display, and were disgusted that someone was ‘trying to make them have something in their bodies.’ 

A good number of these people are openly religious, and I don’t think that’s a coincidence. One of my former friends – a staunch Catholic, no less – I’ve kept in my Facebook just so I can watch on with a sense of bemusement (and horror) at how far down the rabbit hole of conspiracy she tumbled. 

My point being, if you live with one delusion, you're going to be susceptible to many others too. 

As much of a modern day classic The God Delusion has become, one can’t help thing that Dawkins failed to grasp the nettle and condemn the concept of religion totally. He failed, also, I believe, to properly investigate the kinds of sciences that we have available to us – and had 17 years ago at publication date. We now know so much about the human brain, about neuropsychology, about how belief systems develop in the mind, and about sociology, and how society acts and how individuals mimic each other. And it’s this scientific knowledge, along with other types of science (satellites orbiting the Earth predicting the weather, for example) that is rendering all religion a total irrelevance. There is genuinely no benefit to religion that can’t be matched or outdone by some other, non-religious, activity. 

The book makes all this abundantly clear, but, despite The God Delusion literally being about nothing, there was so, so much more that it could have said.

Monday, 13 March 2023

Big week for UFC.


UFC 268 is this Saturday night / Sunday morning. The UK’s Lerone Murphy (whom I saw at Manchester convention For the Love of MMA last April) takes on Brazil’s Gabriel Santos, but at the top of the card, UK welterweight champ Leon ‘Rocky’ Edwards rematches ‘Nigerian Nightmare’ Kamaru Usman. Just need a place to watch. Genting are reluctant these days. 

Speaking of MMA, For the Love of MMA have released their full line-up for their second convention. Last year’s was astounding, featuring the UK’s first UFC champ Michael ‘The Count’ Bisping (whom I met). 

For Monopoly Events' second MMA convention, entrance tickets, photo opps, autographs and even training seminars are now available to buy on the site. Here are a few prices: 

Entrance: £25 

Anderson Silva 

Photo £63 

Photo in MMA cage £73.50 

Chuck Liddell 

Photo £52.50 

Photo in MMA cage £63 

Training seminar £52.50 

That’s right. Train in the matted area with the stars of the UFC. I regret not going for this last year, opting for one photo op. The line-up features other big UFC names. I expect the event, the photos and the training sessions will sell quickly, so don’t hesitate. Event runs 29-30th April at Bowlers Exhibition Centre Manchester.

Sunday, 12 March 2023

This gym project is going well.

I mentioned last Saturday I was attempting to live my life like a bodybuilder. So far, so good. 6am getups are manageable. I’m steadily encroaching some old PBs. I waited until March to do this so that it wouldn’t be too dark or cold… and then it snowed. And the roads weren’t gritted. Neither was the gym car park. 


Haven’t missed any sessions so far, though. Oldham faces more sleet around Tuesday-Thursday. 

Also, to get into the spirit of gym nut meathead, I have shaved off my hair and started on the protein shakes. Stopped short of steroids, though. 

In other news, Rachel McFarlane follows me on Instagram. She sang ‘Lover’ and ‘I Need Somebody.’ Cracking dance music tracks from back in the day. 

I should be seeing her sing at Sugar Rush, a 2000s house music throwback night in Bowlers 29th April. Tickets shifting now!


Saturday, 11 March 2023

Mini’s Masala Frittata


For Christmas I got India Express, a cookbook from Rukmini Iyer, the book being part of a range of her books that are popular in our extended family – and across the UK. We had a family Secret Santa swap and I decided to bring something to the table. Someone in my family is vegetarian, so I figured a meat-free recipe would be a good place to start. (Sadly, they tested positive for COVID and missed it, but Mini’s Masala Frittata - a spicy, creamy potato bake – was still devoured.) 

During the recipe I put the coriander and chillis in the recipe, not on the surface as the recipe picture suggested. A simple issue of not reading the instructions word for word, or assuming I had. It just made the bake a little spicier than it should have been. I had no complaints. Should have been 65 mins cook time. I took about 90.

Enjoyed by all. I had some left over the next night, so took it to a new year party, where it got polished off.